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Public backs call to tackle obesity in school children

26 May 2016

A local health charity has welcomed public backing for the proposal that the revenue from the ‘sugar tax’ should be used to tackle obesity in schools. Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke carried out an opinion poll which showed that 82% of the public agreed that the NI Executive should ring-fence this money to tackle a problem which already affects a quarter of Northern Ireland’s children.

Neil Johnston, NICHS’s Public Affairs Adviser explained, “The levy on sugary drinks was included in this week’s Queen’s Speech and will come into force in 2018. It is estimated that when the ‘Sugar Tax’ of 8p per can (or 25p per litre) is introduced in 2018 it could raise £18m for Northern Ireland. We are delighted that the Northern Ireland public agree with us that this money should be used to improve the health of our children.

“We asked the public the following question – ‘Given that 25% of children in Northern Ireland are obese or overweight, to what extent do you agree or disagree that this money should be ‘ring-fenced’ specifically to improve physical activity opportunities in primary schools?’ 45% strongly agreed with the idea and 37% agreed.”

The charity welcomed the appointment of the new Health Minister, Michelle O’Neill along with media reports that the Northern Ireland Executive’s Programme for Government contains ‘Reducing health inequality’ and ‘Increasing healthy life expectancy’ amongst its aims.

Mr Johnston continued, “These are worthy aspirations but can only be achieved if there are firm plans and resources in place. Given the demands that are daily placed on the health service it can be difficult to free up resources to adequately tackle issues such as obesity. We believe the introduction of the ‘sugar tax’ gives the Executive a distinct pot of money to use and enough time to put proper plans in place by 2018. We have an opportunity to do the right thing and take action to give our children’s health a real boost by giving them the chance to get more physical activity – for example by ensuring all primary schools make sure they give their pupils 2 hours of quality PE every week. We calling on the new Executive and in particular the new Health Minister to listen to the public and take action.”

Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke will be seeking cross party support for its campaign.